Last year, Mayor Michael Tubbs of Stockton, California launched one of the United States’ first basic income trials in an effort to combat poverty, economic inequality, and the opportunity gap for people of color in his city.
Now, Tubbs has launched a new coalition, Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, encouraging mayors from around the country to do the same. So far, ten more major cities have joined the coalition: Atlanta, Columbia, Compton, Los Angeles, Jackson, Newark, Oakland, Saint Paul, Shreveport, and Tacoma. Though the cities will work collectively to support and better understand guaranteed income, each city will develop and implement its own unique trial with separate funding.
Basic income, also known as guaranteed income or even “freedom dividends” if you’re Andrew Yang, calls on governments to offer monthly no-strings payments to citizens as a supplement to their other income in order to lift them out of or avoid poverty. Unlike other government assistance programs, a guaranteed income goes directly to recipients, trusting them to know how that money can best support their well-being. Many throughout American history – including Thomas Paine and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – have advocated for a basic income as a critical tool in achieving prosperity for all. Canada, Finland, Kenya, and The Netherlands have begun trials similar to those championed by this new U.S. coalition.
“I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective — the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.”— Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Such an income floor has arguably been needed for decades, if not centuries. But it is particularly relevant now in our age of skyrocketing unemployment caused by COVID-19 and increasing job automation. The trials will also provide critical data needed to determine whether guaranteed income policies are truly viable, and if so, which approaches are most effective.
For a long time basic income sounded far-fetched to me. I couldn’t imagine how governments could afford to implement it, even if they wanted to. I was even less optimist about such policies passing through the American government system.
Now, in 2020, the concept is quickly gaining momentum. It does not seem so far-fetched. Basic income trials are popping up across the country and across the world. Of course, it’s impossible to say whether these trials will ultimately prove effective. Many are skeptical about whether basin income is the best solution to poverty and inequality.
But whether or not they are ultimately effective, these trials do seem to demonstrate that this incredibly difficult moment in time has opened our eyes considerably, giving us permission to challenge and expand our idea of what is reasonable, practical, and possible. Perhaps this is just the start of a much bigger process of re-imagining our economy, who gets access to money, and for what reasons.